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MUSIC PUBLISHING 101 - By Steven Hudis 
Lyn Ashley Music ASCAP, Aliso Conejo Publishing BMI 

I have been asked many times to clarify certain subjects of publishing and will take the time to give you some insight as to how a PUBLISHER works and WHAT WE LOOK FOR.

There is more to publishing than record sales. That's pretty straight-forward stuff. 

Publishing is usually set up and split up in so many different ways that it confuses people. The part that freaks everyone out the most is when publishers talk about 200% of 100% of a song. That's really an old-fashioned and traditional way to explain copyrights, songwriter royalties and publishing, and it hardly ever makes sense to anybody. 

In reality, all artists have to understand is that there are three basic rights that publishers deal with. 

When a song is written, the writer owns the entire copyright; all the publishing rights and the writer's share of those rights. Publishing usually refers to only 50% of the writer's royalty, which is known as the publisher's share. 


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If a songwriter signs a co-publishing deal, those rights will be shared equally with the publisher. 

If a songwriter wants to hold onto the rights, they might want to simply sign an administration deal where the publisher merely takes care of business, including all of the paperwork, but usually does not share in all of the rights. 

Whether you think of it as 200% or 100%, the bottom line is the same, no matter what kind of a publishing deal you do. If you work with a publisher, you're going to share in the proceeds from the song you wrote. 

When a songwriter writes an original song, several rights are included as part of the copyright. 

They are: 

  1. the right to reproduce the song; 
  2. the right to distribute copies of it; 
  3. the right to perform the song in public; 
  4. the right to make a derivative work based on the song; and 
  5. if it's a multi-media creation, the right to display it publicly. 

Publishers will help a songwriter exploit all of those rights in as many areas and mediums as possible so that income can be made from the work. 

Any reputable publisher should be able to handle all areas of publishing. 

However, there are different types of publishers based on their size and dominance in the market. 

First, there are the major players, who are usually affiliated with record labels, like Warner/Chappell, Universal Music, BMG and EMI. Then there are major affiliates, which are independent companies that work with a major player in certain areas or territories, like Famous Music and Quincy Jones Publishing. 

There are also independents, which are companies not affiliated with a major, though they may do some work with them. 

Lastly, of course, there are songwriters themselves who hold onto their publishing and act as their own publishers. But, generally, that only works if they're so well established that people come to them for songs. 

A good publisher knows how much to pitch a song, how much to charge for various licenses and where to look for money, especially in the foreign market. They will know how to exploit each source of income so that the songwriter can make as much as possible from a single song. 

Also, a publisher with good connections can help a songwriter hook-up with the right people and prevent them him/her getting lost in the shuffle. 

Lets discuss royalties: 

First, there are mechanical royalties which is the money paid, usually by a record company, for the right to use a song on a record. A mechanical royalty is subject to a maximum statutory rate set by law (around 8 cents per song). It's customary, though, to discount the rate to around 75% of the maximum allowed, or about 6 cents per song.  

Second, there are the public performance royalties that are collected and administered by the Performing Rights Organizations, such as ASCAP and BMI. They grant licenses for radio, television, tours and a few secondary areas. Many publishers also focus on synchronization licenses, which are used whenever music is combined with a visual element-like in movies, television, videos and computer games. 

Lastly, there is print income that comes from sheet music and folios. 

These are the major areas that most publishers deal with, and the ones that most songwriters generate income from. 

Nowadays, there are also two other areas that can be fairly lucrative: they are samples (when another artist uses a portion of a song) and karaoke use. 

Often times, you'll find that a smaller publisher will be more aggressive when it comes to pitching sings and getting them used. They have to work harder in order to compete with the majors who work with thousands of songs. 

Songwriters are also more likely to get more attention at a mid-size or small publisher, but a large company has its benefits too. They'll usually offer a larger advance and have a wider network of contacts. Large companies can also use their weight to negotiate major deals. Artists should just be aware that publishers who handle major stars will usually work them harder because they produce the most income. Sometimes it's simply a personal choice and really boils down to whether or not a certain publisher can help an artist build their career. 

About the Author

2002 Steven Hudis. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

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